The Poverty Complex

Via Flickr by user Arturo Avila. Used under Creative Commons License.

Greedy people may be slaves to money — that’s an easy enough concept to grasp. So that means that poor people aren’t slaves, right?

Maybe not.

True, Jesus said more than once that poor people are blessed. But that doesn’t mean that poverty is God’s desired state for His people (the Bible is full of evidence to the contrary). And when you look at people whose lives are marked by poverty, you’ll likely find evidence of plenty of slavery: addictions, depression, domestic violence, etc.

Confused yet? I think that what makes this so tricky is that we have a bunch of terms confused into one idea. We tend to think that all poor people are in poverty; to put it another way, we believe that scarcity and poverty are the same. But biblically, poverty and scarcity are worlds apart.

Scarcity is a set of circumstances. Some people chose scarcity, but many millions more around the world are born into it. Scarcity can come because of a lack of natural resources, a corrupt government, war or a host of other factors. In the Old Testament, scarcity was often caused by famine or other acts of God. Even God’s people, the Israelites, were not immune from the scarcity that came as a result of God’s will.

Poverty, on the other hand, isn’t about resources. Poverty is an attitude, and a series of results from the bad choices that we make. Warnings throughout the book of Proverbs make this clear: Poverty comes from laziness, a lack of discipline, empty words and selfishness.

What this tells us is that poverty results from the heart. It comes regardless of resources. We’ve all heard stories of dynamic Christian ministers in the Third World who manage to be diligent, caring and generous spirit, despite the scarcity of their surroundings. We’ve also all known people in the United States — the wealthiest civilization in the history of man — who live lives of poverty. Poverty is a disease of the heart, mind and spirit. And when it gets its grip on you, poverty can make you a slave.

The signs of poverty slavery may not show up as easily as the signs of greed, but once you learn to see them, they become painfully obvious. Poverty causes people to have a pessimistic outlook on life: They begin to believe that they’ll never get ahead in life, that they’ll never have enough. As a result, when they do come into some money, they are prone to blow it quickly on frivolous things, because “you only live once.” Spending big on a night of revelry helps to ease the pain of poverty… but only for one night. Come morning, they wake up and find themselves back in the pit. The cycle often repeats itself from generation to generation, casting whole families into a spiritual slavery.

For Christians, poverty may not lead to misbehavior in the name of good times. But a poverty mentality strips us of the generosity that God wants us to practice. You can’t give if you don’t have any money. And when we don’t tithe, and don’t give, the work of the Kingdom suffers. God’s people become unable to do God’s work, because they can’t provide for their families in the process.

By sneaking a spirit of poverty into our lives, the enemy slips chains around our necks, sabotaging the Kingdom by subordinating its people. By drawing unsaved people into poverty, he strips poor souls of their hope, and adds heavy burdens around their necks. Poverty, it seems, is a slave driver too.

Up next: The borrower is slave to the lender